Detained by the Army (Strike two)

Friday 4th February 2011

I headed back into Tahrir Square with Snoopy and his family. We were confident that it would be safe as we could see on the news that the square was teeming with tens of thousands of peaceful protestors.

As we approached Tahrir Square, we had to pass through many checkpoints, set up by the local men and women. There was a spirit of love and peace among the people. At one of the checkpoints a woman held out her arms to indicate that she wanted to search me. I misinterpreted the gesture as an indication that she wanted a hug, so I wrapped my arms around her and kissed her on the cheek. Her and her friends laughed, “Ya gamila, gamila.” (Gamila is an affectionate term, meaning something like beautiful girl).

There was a party atmosphere in Tahrir Square, with crowds of people laughing and chatting. Of course there was drumming going on as well; no party in Egypt would be complete without at least one drum. There were people of all ages, from babies to the elderly, all genders, all religions, all nationalities and all walks of life. Many gathered in coffee shops just outside Tahrir Square, smoking shisha and drinking Turkish coffee, while military helicopters circled overhead.

Eventually, after another long day of protesting we headed back to Snoopy’s place around 10.45pm. Again we had to pass through many checkpoints, and the walk that usually takes five to ten minutes took considerably longer, especially as I got detained by the army (again)!

One of the civilians on the checkpoint, another jobsworth, took my passport and started talking on a walkie-talkie. Snoopy and his brother and sister, Mahmoud and Eman, were arguing with the guy in Arabic, and I couldn’t understand what they were saying but I guessed it had something to do with me being a foreigner. Eventually they let Mahmoud and Eman carry on home and yet another jobsworth came to take Snoopy and I back to the army checkpoint where we’d just been checked and waved through.

The jobsworth kept telling me not to worry. He couldn’t speak any English, so Snoopy was translating. He said “Don’t worry, I’ve got you in my eyes,” and pointed to his eyes with two fingers of one hand. I said “Yeah, yeah. Welcome to Egypt.” He looked affronted and told Snoopy that he was not flirting with me, and that he was married, as he pointed to his wedding ring.

Mahmoud and Eman kept trying to call us so they confiscated our phones. One of the army officials took us to an office, the jobsworth followed and the officer told him he could leave. He started whispering to the officer and then went on his way.

At the office, not much happened, as I was a woman they asked me to take a seat. I decided to take a leaf out of Angie’s book and try flirting with the officers and speaking with them in broken Arabic. I noticed one of the very young soldiers looking at me, so I flashed him a smile. He smiled back and then looked away as if he was shy. I tried it on one of the other soldiers but he just stared at me, which I found a bit intimidating, so this time I was the one who looked away.

There was a jovial atmosphere in the office and the officers were eating ta’ameya. They seemed to enjoy me speaking in Arabic and they tried to teach me new words.

They spoke to Snoopy and questioned him about me and after around ten minutes they returned our phones and my passport and allowed us to leave. They told me to take care of myself and waved us off. “Salam alaikum,” “Peace be upon you,” I said. “Alaikum salam,” they answered, “Upon you peace.”


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